Berks County, PA -  

Marge Stiller, the coordinator of Berks Therapy Dogs, spreads something that everyone needs: love.


Stiller of Spring Township works to certify therapy dogs and coordinates visitations for therapy dogs, including her own, to places where people are missing the irreplaceable love from a dog.

"Everyone likes dogs," says Stiller, who has three standard poodles and one golden retriever. "I just want to do something that makes them (people) happy."

Frequently, Stiller visits Penn State Health St. Joseph medical center. She takes her therapy dogs to greet patients in the hospital, including the infusion wing for cancer patients.

Overall, 22 dogs visit St. Joseph's per week, she says.

Additionally, on a weekly basis, 10 to 12 dogs are brought to Phoebe Berks Village, Wernersville, where the dogs put on a show. Stiller estimates about 50 residents come to watch the show and then greet the dogs. Some of the residents at Phoebe Berks had to give up their dogs when they moved in. They enjoy receiving the one-of-a-kind love from man's best friend.

According to Stiller, petting a dog can lower a person's heart rate and blood pressure, and their need for oxygen. This is why Stiller takes her dogs to local colleges, such as Reading Area Community College, Albright College and Kutztown University during mid-term and final exam times. The students pet the dogs to help relieve their stress.

When Stiller first went to get her dogs' therapy certification, there were only five dogs certified in Berks County. Soon, she became a therapy dog tester and took a position as coordinator of Berks County Therapy Dogs, a chapter of Therapy Dogs Inc. Over the past 24 years, Stiller said, she has certified more than 100 therapy dogs.

A dog has to be 1 year old to be eligible for therapy dog status, but preparation can start in puppyhood. Stiller says it is easier to teach puppies the skills they need to know, such as walking nicely on a leash, not barking constantly, not jumping on people for a greeting, knowing the commands "sit" and "down" and, most importantly, knowing how to properly behave when with people and other dogs.

"It is important to socialize puppies at a young age," Stiller says. "Otherwise they develop fear and aggression when they meet other people and dogs."

Once the owner thinks their dog has met all of these requirements, Stiller will take them out three times to test their skills. These tests will be with other dogs to see that the trainee can interact with other dogs, since certified therapy dogs travel in groups. While puppies may be easier to train, Stiller has successfully trained rescue dogs.

Thanks to Stiller training and coordinating therapy dog visits, people who need a dose of happiness can receive a loving visit from a furry friend.